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Article resources:

OP Products

OP InsecticideCommon Names, University of Iowa

OP Poisoning and Real People

Kids at Risk, U.S. News

Jet Crash with NerveGas Cargo, LA Times 1998

The Stuff in the BackYard Shed, U.S. News

Pesticide PoisoningCase Studies, Journal of the American Board of Family Practice

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Gulf War SyndromeSuicide Link, BBC News

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Surrounding Science

Looking up Chemicals www.chemfinder.com

Looking up Terms www.about.com

Phosphate Aronomy http://www.misschem.com/
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What would you say if I said you could radically reduce the incidence of Alzheimer’s, anorexia, asthma, arthritis, forms of cancer, Creutzfeist-Jacob disease, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, forms of depression, many food allergies, Gulf War Syndrome, forms of heart disease, muscular dystrophy (MS), Parkinson’s and many other diseases of the brain and muscular system? Mounting evidence shows this list of debilitating and deadly conditions may very well be linked to the use of one group of chemicals called organophosphates (OP).

What’s the catch? OPs are found in many of the items we use in and around our homes as well as much of the food we eat. The sales of OPs are actually BIG business to some of the most powerful companies in the world—the agro-chemical and pharmaceutical companies.

Starting to wonder if parallels exist between OPs and the tobacco industry, like the whistle blowing portrayed in the movie The Insider? Well…..you just might be right. Only we are now at the pre-Hollywood stage; the blowers are just starting to find their whistles.

After sifting through a mountain of information on OPs I can at least give you a good thumb nail of the OP situation and how it may be affecting you. Author’s Warning: This may very well be the second largest threat to global welfare (second only to a nuclear holocaust), the ingredients for multiple—dare I say the word—conspiracies, and the beginnings of a Hollywood blockbuster plot all rolled into one.

The sky is not falling and my name is not, nor has it ever been Chicken Little, so let’s continue on a rational path with an old journalism stand-by, by answering the following questions:

      What is an organophosphate?

      When were OPs introduced and Why are they used?

      How do OPs affect your brain and body?

      Who is at risk to OP exposure and Where do the risks come from?

What is an organophosphate?

The term organophosphate (OP) describes a group of compounds containing the organic substance of carbon, the major mineral phosphorus and additional chemicals, depending on the specific compound. 

Phosphorus, on its own, one of the most numerous minerals in our body, occurs naturally and is essential for life in humans, plants and animals. Accounting for 20% of the body’s mineral ash, phosphorus is spread throughout every cell. By bonding with proteins, fats and salts, and most heavily concentrated in bones and teeth, phosphorus is a welcome and needed resident in the human body.

When combined with carbon and other materials like fluorine, cyanide, sulfur and a host of others, the OP compound is deadly. OPs are manufactured and used the world over as pesticides, some herbicides, and military applications of nerve gas. Let me reiterate, nerve gas, as in chemical warfare, as in deadly.  According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approximately 77 million tons of OPs are applied each year in the U.S.

When were OPs introduced and Why are they used?

Although some debate revolves around when OPs were first created, most sources point to sometime between 1938-1944 as the birth of OP nerve gas created by the Nazis who had planned to use it in World War II. As the story goes, at the closing of WW II, Allied troops discovered the Nazi’s factory where the nerve gas Sarin and some 2,000 other OP nerve gases had been synthesized. By 1955, after researching the OP nerve gases, scientists discovered OPs to be effective insecticides in addition to their warfare applications.

The OP insecticides were deemed highly effective as broad-spectrum insecticides, able to be used on many crop types to control a variety of insects with one type of OP insecticide. The insects seemed unable to develop a resistance to the OP insecticides. In addition, OPs are relatively inexpensive in terms of monetary cost. As research continued on OPs, they continued to evolve into more and more insecticides, fungicides, anti-bacterials, larvicides, rodent pesticides, some herbicides, and more powerful chemical warfare agents.

How do OPs affect your brain?

OPs are a known toxin to the central nervous system. The toxin is believed to be able to by-pass the body’s defense systems of the epidermis, liver, kidneys, glades, etc. because the body readily accepts the phosphorus base of the compound as a needed mineral in almost every one of its cells. Once accepted, the OP forms covalent bonds to acetylcholine (ACh). ACh transmits messages between nerve cells and from motor neurons to muscles cells  (including organ muscle cells) through electrochemical impulses effectively altering the polarity of the nerve cells. By bonding to the ACh, OP effectively prevents the disconnection of the message ACh is delivering to the nerve cell. Normally acetylcholinestrase (AChE) enzyme or cholinesterase (ChE) enzyme would decompose ACh through hydrolysis, repolarizing the nerve cells back to the way it was before ACh arrived with the message.

For example, if the neurotransmitter ACh has told your eye to twitch and AChE and ChE cannot decompose the message, your eye will continue to twitch until the OP is hydrolyzed.  In the case of certain OP bonds, the OP cannot by hydrolyzed, prolonging ACh’s message for a period of days or weeks until the AChE or ChE enzymes are able to finally hydrolyze the ACh neurotransmitter message. In this way OP can exhaust or even “burn out” nerve cells and the muscles and functions they control.

ACh neurotransmitters send messages to a vast amount and variety of nerve cells in your body including the salivary glands, mucosal glands, stomach, spleen, bladder, liver, sweat glands, blood vessels, and heart. ACh messages are also responsible for memory and emotion functions, respiratory function, blood pressure, and functions of vision.

The effects of ACh bonded to OP can be as mild as light headaches, a momentary blurring of vision, and tearing. Moderate effects could include vertigo, decreased or increased heart rate and blood pressure, bronchial constriction and respiratory distress. At lethal doses, as proven with nerve gases, OP can cause death through heart attack or asphyxiation from respiratory failure. Less than lethal exposure can cause any number of conditions lasting anywhere from moments to causing irreversible damage.

As you would guess, the effect of OPs on humans varies according to the OP compound, the amount and frequency of exposure, and the existing medical and genetic condition of the person exposed. Given the wide abilities of OP poisoning and the relevance of the genetic and medical conditions of the individual exposed, tracking the effects of OP poisoning can be difficult. Empirical data suggests OPs, with the right exposure and genetic predisposition, could be the cause of many diseases of the brain and muscular system, running the gamut from asthma, cancer, and MS to Gulf War Syndrome, anorexia, and many food allergies.

Who is at risk to OP exposure and Where do the risks come from?

O.K., now that your eyes are opening wider, you’re seeing the parallels to the dangers in smoking tobacco. Maybe you are thinking—so I just won’t “light up,” I’ll avoid the stuff. Think again Pollyanna! We would be hard pressed to find a person on this planet who could avoid exposure to OP.

Let’s take an apple for example. Typically apples are given 20 applications of an OP insecticide before they reach your local grocer. Scrub that apple all you want—your anti-bacterial soap is probably an OP fungicide, and your water source could be contaminated with OP run-off or “cleaned” with chlorine, which is an article in itself. Doesn’t matter anyway because the OP is probably already resident, to the core in the apple, or grape, or grain, or nut and, Oh Yeah!, your meat. Animals are sprayed with OP insecticides too!  According to the EPA for the 60 million acres of U.S. agricultural crops, 60 million pounds of OPs are applied annually.

Most likely you can find OPs in your living room, bedroom, bathroom, basement, and garage. Products that keep you and your dog free of fleas and ticks, your tub free of mildew, your lawn free of pests that live in the soil, your roses free of mites, and even many paints that you use on interior walls can contain OPs. The EPA estimates that 1 million pounds of OPs are used for turf and ornamental pest control, 4 million for non-agricultural livestock and pets, and an additional 7 million pounds for residential and commercial termite and pest control annually. Note though, these numbers do not account for the OPs in paint, cleaning fluids, and health and beauty products.

According to Pat Thomas, author of Cleaning Yourself to Death, of the 70,000 chemicals used in toiletries and cleaning products less than 25% have had a full safety investigation.  In fact, some have ingredients that have been officially classed as hazardous waste. Citing a  survey conducted by the U.S. National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, Thomas states that of the 2,983 chemicals in personal care products 30% were toxic.

Going outside your house may not be much better. Golf courses, restaurants, and supermarkets are often frequent users of OP pesticides. Heck, even if you use organic alternatives, but your neighbor uses OP based pesticides the exposure could affect you. Traveling from one country to another you might even be sprayed on the plane, as I was when leaving a country in Asia. There is even some talk about jet fuel having an OP by-product that can get into the recycled cabin air.

Those that are most at risk are people exposed to nerve gases, or are in professions who administer pesticides to large areas frequently such as farmers, landscapers, and pest control workers, but none of us are untouched by OP exposure.

Now that your neurotransmitters are all fired up, you have got to be thinking like I have been, ‘How the heck could this happen?’

OPs are a monetarily inexpensive and effective way to control pests.

The effects of OP exposure on people outside of high-risk jobs have not been intensively researched, are hard to trace, and the theories that would call for the elimination of OPs are not widely accepted. No doubt you have reasoned that for every scientist, doctor and area expert I have gleaned information from to create this article and for everyone that would agree with its contents, there is at least one if not many who hold identical credentials that would disagree vehemently. But, I can tell you in defense of what you have read: the State of California enforces a mandatory AChE monitoring protocol for any person who works in day-to-day contact with carbamates and OP pesticides, OPs have come under considerable fire in the U.S. Food and Quality Protection Act, and many if not all OP manufacturers monitor the blood levels of their OP scientist on a regular basis.

There are scientific debates going on every day. Ozone, CFAs, and Arsenic have become household words, why not organophosphates. Ever heard of the saying “follow the money?” In this case there is a pretty significant trail to follow.

Let me map out what the whistle blowers, most of whom are just finding their whistles, are saying. Many of the large prescription drug producing pharmaceutical companies are joined at the hip with an OP producing agro-chemical company either by partnership or ownership. Many of our agriculturists, food technicians, and medical professionals are educated at institutions with significant funding from pharmaceutical and agro-chemical companies. Many research facilities and “watch dog” agencies have ties with pharmaceutical and agro-chemical companies through grants, sponsorships, and board members. And let’s not forget about lobbyists. One could look at that and think there is a pretty tight web of back scratching going on.

Maybe it is a case of putting out a group of chemicals that do a great job, while their negative health risks are taking decades to rise to the surface.

In any case, know it’s your turn to help make OP a household name, start paying more attention to organically grown products and most importantly vote with your wallet! If South Africa can change the price of AIDs medications…

But you know, I don’t get what part of “derivative of nerve gas that is lethal in seconds,” we don’t understand.

Tell me your OP story at kellee@linezine.com.

Kellee K. Sikes is a contributing editor for LiNE Zine and Principal of Pioneer Technologies, a consulting company focused on business analysis, project management, and business development services based in St. Louis, Missouri.

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